Rescuers crawled on their hands and knees Saturday searching for bodies and for victims feared trapped in the rubble of a furious storm that stabbed into the heartland of America and spawned tornadoes killing at least 27 people.
More tornadoes struck Texas, Louisiana and Alabama Saturday, while winds caused damage in Alabama and nearly 4 inches of rain flooded streets in South Carolina. Tornado watches were posted in northern Louisiana, central and southern Arkansas, east-central Alabama and central and eastern Georgia.
Twisters roared early Friday evening through small towns in south- central Kansas and northern Oklahoma, destroying homes and businesses, knocking out telephone and electrical service and causing death and injury.
'It's gonna be a day that people are going to remember for a long, long time,' National Weather Service meteorologist Dick Elder said.
Joy Moser, a spokeswoman with the Kansas Adjutant General's Office, said 25 people were confirmed dead in that state, and police said one person died in Oklahoma. More than 100 people were hurt, but there were no precise numbers of injured or people missing.
The storm system responsible for the destruction spun out at least 71 tornadoes, which also struck in Nebraska, Texas, Iowa and Missouri. Hail as large as 5 inches was reported near Wyandotte, Kan.
'The total number of storms and extent of damage from the storms will not be known for several weeks,' NWS forecaster Harry Gordon said. 'The effects of the storms will last years.'
National Guard troops were deployed in Kansas and the governor declared a state of emergency. The town hit hardest was Andover, a community of 4,500 people outside Wichita that suffered 19 dead, at least 114 injured, 1,500 homeless, and damage estimated at $50 million, officials said.
'This will definitely go down in history as one of the top Kansas tornadoes,' said Tim Burke, a meteorologist.
The tornado that struck Andover first touched down in sparsely populated Harper County north of the Oklahoma border around 5:30 p.m. CDT and stayed on the ground for more than two hours, ripping a northeastward path of destruction for about 75 miles, Burke said.
It damaged some buildings at the Boeing Co. complex in Wichita and then hit nearby McConnell Air Force Base at 6:29 p.m.
'It hit the base hospital and base housing, then continued northeast causing substantial damage on the east side of Wichita,' he said. Moser said the hospital was demolished and the base reported 17 injuries.
At 6:45 p.m. the tornado struck Andover, slashing through the Golden Spur Mobile Home Park and leaving only a few trailers upright out of about 100. Nineteen bodies were found in the ruins of the park -- 16 Friday night and three Saturday.
Mayor Finlason said late Saturday night that search and rescue teams using dogs and heavy equipment still had to examine one-third of the homes in the trailer park and would start on that job Sunday.
He said town officials allowed residents of the mobile home park into the area for three hours Saturday to gather what possessions they could find.
'Tomorrow will will continue the search and rescue through that remaining one-third, and then let the residents back in one last time,' he said.
Finlason's wife Patti said the tornado 'took a path right through the center' of the trailer park.
'To me it looks like a landfill that has been gone over with a road grader. It looks like a nuclear war zone, the few trees that are standing have no branches and no leaves on them,' she said.
The tornado roared through an Andover shopping center, peeling back part of its roof and destroying a Pizza Hut restaurant and convenience store before moving into a residential area. Finlason watched the rampage from her home.
'It was much larger than what I expected a tornado to look like,' she said. 'Clouds were swirling and you could see all the debris it had picked up, you could see boards and metal flying around in it.'NEWLN: more
x x x in it.'
The tornado caused auto accidents and wiped out electricity and telephone service in the area. Finlason said electricity had been restored to northern Andover but would be out two to four more days on the south side.
A mobile phone company brought in banks of cellular phones for rescue workers to use and a command post and temporary morgue were set up at the damaged shopping center.
Doctors treated scores of victims into the wee hours Saturday for abrasions, head injuries, heart attacks, and broken bones. Wichita-area hospitals reported treating 114 people, Half of them required admission, and eight were listed in critical condition.
'The tornado sat down and just didn't lift back up. It did a lot of damage,' said Debra Alfers, a spokeswoman at Riverside Hospital.
Rescue workers -- sometimes crawling on their hands and knees -- hunted through the wreckage of the walloping winds for remains and people possibly trapped.
'We had a guy on the phone in Andover when the tornado hit his house. He was talking and said the lights were beginning to flicker, there was a huge roar, he said pieces of his house had started to pull off, and then the line went dead. We still haven't been able to make contact with him,' said Kirk Longhofer of Wichita radio station KNSS.
Some people said the tornado struck them by surprise, but Burke said Andover residents received warning it was heading straight for them some 15 minutes before it actually hit.
'From what I've heard, everybody should've known,' Burke said.
About 290 National Guardsmen were patrolling the area Saturday, including one company from the 1st Battalion, 137th Infantry in Andover and three companies in Wichita, Moser said.
Gov. Joan Finney; Sens. Bob Dole, R-Kan., and Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan. ; and Rep. Dan Glickman, D-Kan., toured the scene of devastation, Moser said. Finney declared a state of emergency.
Elsewhere in Kansas, tornadoes struck in or near Topeka, Washington, Dunlap, Council Grove, Eskridge, Manhattan, Alma, Wichita, Anthony, Conway Springs and Peck, the NWS said.
A twister that hit Haysville damaged nearly 100 homes, Police Chief Earl Kitchings said, adding that three people went into shock but were reported in stable condition.
Moser said that in addition to the 18 dead in Andover, four people died in Sedgwick County in the Wichita area, two in Elk County and one in Cowley County, she said.
Twisters blasted six homes, a bake shop, a cafe and a convenience store in Copan, Okla., 9 miles south of the Kansas border, killing one person and injuring seven, said Sgt. Don Bradley of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
Power lines were knocked down in Skiatook, south of Copan and 12 miles north of Tulsa; and 12 people were ahurt at Oologah, 20 miles northwest of Skiatook, when twisters damaged the high school and destroyed more than 30 mobile homes, barns and other structures, Oklahoma authorities said.
Thunderstorms and rain Saturday battered parts of Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Wind gusts ripped the roof from a house in Prairie du Chien, Wis., and damaged trees and power lines.
More than an inch of rain doused Memphis, Tenn., and Tuscaloosa, Ala. , in a six-hour period Saturday morning.
At daybreak up to 4 inches of fresh snow had fallen in Wyoming, 8 inches in higher passes of northern and central Colorado, and 6 inches around Salt Lake City, Utah.